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May 20, 2014

As promised, I will be sending you a series of journal issues that look at peer reviewed research and then putting it into terms everyone can understand and make use of, regardless of your level of experience and knowledge. This will include actionable items that can be put to use in your own training.

The first of these research-based journal issues will focus on the hormonal and metabolic responses to training. In simple terms, how your hormones respond to different types of training and how the body produces, accesses and metabolises fuel for a given activity. We will focus on one activity per issue, outlining the hormonal and metabolic responses for that given activity and how to put it to use.

The aim is to keep it short, simple and directly applicable so you can put it into action immediately.

HEAVY STRENGTH TRAINING (heavy weight, low reps of 1-5 per set)

Hormonal Response = Boosting Testosterone

A study by Luis M. Alvidrez and Len Kravitz, Ph.D. reveals various responses hormone production as a result of heavy strength training. The most pronounced spike in testosterone production as well as the highest increase in resting testosterone levels, were discovered in groups that performed heavy compound movements at 90% or more of the maximum weight they can lift for 1 rep, AKA their 1RM, performed NOT to failure and rest periods of between 1 - 2 minutes. Volume was moderate to high in terms of the number of sets performed. Increases in testosterone were most notable for exercises that involve the largest recruitment of overall muscle mass, meaning the more muscles used during the exercise, the greater the hormone response.

What can you do?

1. All of your strength training, at its foundation, should include big compound movements that utilise a wide range of muscle groups. Examples are deadlifts, squats, barbell rows, bench press, barbell lunges, cleans etc.

2. Include heavy sets within your program, with the weight at 90% of your max or higher, performed for a low number of reps, with 3-5 being the ideal range.

3. Don't train to failure, meaning that you should stop before you are unable to perform another single rep. Put another way, don't train until you can't squeeze out even one more rep. That does not mean go easy, it means stop 1-2 reps short of failure. If the absolute maximum number of reps you can do with a gien weight is 7, then you should not exceed 5 reps with that weight.

4. Keep rest periods long enough to be able to exert the same effort on each successive set, but don't rest long enough to cool down completly. You should rest just enough to recover for the next set, no longer. In most cases that is around 2 minutes.

5. Lastly, perform this lifting protocol for a moderate volume. A total of 7-12 total sets per workout (all exercises combined) and anywhere from 2 of these training days per week for beginners up to 5 per week for experienced and conditioned lifters.

Metabolic Response = More efficient use of carbohydrates and other fast-burning fuel

But are these hormonal responses just acute? Or do they also extend long-term? The following study [] reveals that total testosterone (not free testosterone), both at rest and during and after training were still raised 10 weeks after the program. Some experts also suggest that, like muscle memory, exercise-induced enhanced testosterone production causes long-term adaptations to the endocrine system, creating the adaptation of greater sensitivity to testosterone response to exercise. In other words, there is a pretty good chance that heavy strength training will make your body more efficient at producing the coveted hormone. The more consistently one trains throughout their life the greater efficiency of testosterone production beyond untrained levels.

Heavy strength training is a valuable training protocol to include in your program for a number of reasons. We have covered the hormonal response, being a boost in natural testosterone levels (there are also other hormonal benefits such as an increase in IGF-1 production), however the benefits don't end with the endocrine system. Heavy lifts at a high percentage of your maximum strength provide a very valuable metabolic response, both acutely and over the long-term.

Heavy compound lifts are highly taxing on the human body in multiple ways. Primarily these can be broken down into two areas; structural stress, meaning the breakdown of actual physical structures such as muscle fibres, and central nervous system (CNS) stress, which is self explanatory. These types of extreme stress, provided injury and over-training do not occur, are positive stresses for the body. These are the types of stress that the body adapts to and gets stronger as a result. Lets look at both types of stress and how they can benefit you metabolically.

CNS Stress

CNS stress is deceptive. Quite often you won't notice this form of stress in obvious ways. It's subtle, with likely results being temporarily reduced strength and endurance and general fatigue. The motor neurons (neurons that control muscle contraction) have been put through a big task by lifting heavy. They need to respond by telling muscles to contract and by delivering the appropriate strength signal based on the force required of that muscle. By doing this at a level that is at least 90% of one's maximum capacity, the body needs to use up a lot of resources. These resources go into overdrive during a workout and continue during the entire recovery period between sessions. In order to first recover and then to adapt stronger and more efficient as a response to training, the body recruits a lot of fuel and other resources such as minerals. These resources repair the motor neurons and make them stronger at delivering muscle recruitment messages to the muscle fibres themselves. This energy cost has to come from somewhere, so the body needs to recruit it from the food that is consumed. This has the benefit of both building strength and utilising fat stores or dietary energy that would potentially be stored as fat cells.

Structural/Muscular Stress

This is less of a factor with heavy lifts at low reps. Structural damage is generally associated with greater time under tension, hence bodybuilders generally train in the range of 8-12 reps per set. Having said that, there is still a structural metabolic effect with heavy lifts at low reps. Any strength movement performed in both the concentric and eccentric part of a lift taxes the body. The reason for this is the same with all training adaptations, a certain stimulus, usually in the form of some sort of break down of tissue, triggers a repair process, where the muscle is signalled to repair itself, but also to repair stronger and sometimes larger than it was before. This growth and repair takes energy and building blocks derived from the food that we consume like macro-nutrients and substances stored within the body. The result is greater use of these physical resources, resulting in both stronger muscles and less stored energy in the form of excess glyogen and the much-loathed FAT. In other words, heavy strength training, among other forms of training, assists in shedding excess energy (AKA stored body fat).

Looking at a strength workout on its own, the amount of energy used during the actual workout is rather limited, just like with any other form of training. The energy used here happens largely after the session has finished, mostly in the recovery and repair role.

What can you take home from this?

1. Ensure strength forms at least a small part of your overall training program.

2. Keep volume moderate to high, but not crazy high.

3. Lift heavy and often. No need for marathon sessions.

4. Work primarily on compound lifts, such as deadlift, squat, bench press, military press etc.

Simple process, but not everyone will stick to it. The first step is to just get started.

If you have any questions then feel free to email them on through. Due to the massive volume of emails I get each day I am not always able to answer all of them, but I will do my best.

NEXT ISSUE: We will look at human growth hormone in conjunction with IGF-1. We will look at what these hormones do (a brief and basic explanation), why you want more of them and which training protocol has been shown to increase them radically. We will also look at a few real-life examples.

Unleash your physical potential,

Chris Lyons

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